City completes encampment pilot project in Kensington area
Today, the City closed the last of four large homeless encampments.
PHILADELPHIA– The City of Philadelphia announced the completion of a pilot encampment action plan for the Kensington area that targeted four encampments. It was part of the City’s efforts in combating the opioid crisis in Philadelphia.
The most recent 30-day resolution process targeted the Emerald Street encampment that was adjacent to residential neighborhoods and posed a health and safety threat to those who stay there as well as to the neighbors.
Last year, the City closed three encampments on Tulip Street and Kensington and Frankford avenues.
“We have never seen a crisis like this before in Philadelphia and doing nothing is not an option,” said Managing Director Brian Abernathy. “We made a promise to the people in this community to improve their quality of life and are happy with the preliminary results, however we know that we have a lot more work to do.”
The encampment pilot plan included a multi-phase approach, with the first phase consisting of outreach and engagement efforts to those living in the encampments. The outreach phase included the development of a by-name list of those in the encampment and intensive, daily outreach to assess their needs and connect them to services, including respite and treatment.
In partnership with neighborhood-based non-profit providers, the City provided services to individuals on the list.
The Office of Homeless Services now has a total of 180 emergency, temporary beds dedicated to people who are homeless and living with opioid use disorder. The Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services and Community Behavioral Health worked with non-profit providers to provide immediate access to treatment. A mobile outreach and recovery van was also on site to provide medical care and immediate transportation to services.
Outreach workers counted approximately 45 people in the Emerald Street encampment this morning before closure operations started, with over half accepting some form of treatment or housing.
“Eight months ago today we resolved the first two of four encampments – humanely and effectively – by offering easy access to treatment and low-barrier housing, with the urgency of a deadline,” said Liz Hersh, Office of Homeless Services Director. “Today, 44% of those on our by-name-list from the Kensington and Tulip encampments are housed and/or in treatment. That is progress.”
A total of 295 participated in the pilot program. Of those:
- 197 people connected to housing assistance.
- 180 people connected to mental health services.
- 191 people connected to drug and alcohol services.
- 184 people received medical services.
- 149 people got ID cards, which nearly half of those surveyed identified as a barrier to leaving the camps
The 24th and 25th Police Districts enforced the closing issuing citations to those who refused to remove their belongings. Any personal property left behind was removed by the city and stored for six weeks.
Deputy Commissioner Joseph Sullivan is leading the police department’s efforts to support the pilot. “We cannot and do not want to arrest our way out of the problems surrounding opioid addiction,” says Sullivan. “We are glad to support the outreach work being done to dismantle the encampments, while helping clear paths for people who are battling addiction to get help — and for residents to have a better quality of life.”
The encampment pilot has been assessed by an outside evaluator and has been reviewed by neighborhood associations with the goal of improving the quality of life for everyone living in Kensington and Fairhill.
The report will be finalized and made public in February.
“We have dealt with the backlash of the opioids crisis including the unsanitary conditions that have affected our quality of life, however I have not felt alone battling these problems because police and other City agencies have formed a partnership with the residents to find solutions” said Harry Tapia who lives on Emerald street with his family. “My daughter has wanted to walk home from school for a long time now. I’ve always said no, because I just did not feel comfortable with the encampment. Today, I think I’ll tell her she can walk home from school.”
“The outreach workers are doing amazing work,” said Dante Jones, who lived in one the previous encampments and has since been stabilizing thanks to programs offered by the City and its partners. “Now, I’m doing outreach and was there today for the closure. It’s sad to see people still out there like I was, but the City is now creating options that work. Hopefully they come in like I did.”
Last month, Mayor Kenney extended an executive order through June 30 for the Philadelphia Resilience Project, the City’s emergency response to combat the opioid epidemic in Kensington and surrounding neighborhoods. The Philadelphia Resilience Project focuses on addressing the following overarching goals: clearing major encampments and reducing unsheltered individuals; reducing criminal activity; reducing trash and litter; reducing overdoses and the spread of infectious diseases; increasing treatment options; and, mobilizing community resources.
In just four months, the project has achieved all of its short term goals, like closing major encampments, creating Safe Corridors programs near public schools, establishing a Community Advisory Board, expanding the Police Assisted Diversion program, and much more. Focus is now on accomplishing longer term goals.
About the Philadelphia Resilience Project
The Philadelphia Resilience Project is the City of Philadelphia’s emergency response to combat the opioid epidemic. Representatives of 35 City departments, offices, and agencies have been activated to carry out the directives outlined in Mayor Kenney’s Opioid Emergency Response Executive Order 3-18.
For progress of the effort, visit www.phila.gov/resilientPHL.